The University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team won the Atlantic 10 Championship topping Virginia Commonwealth University 70-63 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This was Rhode Island’s second A-10 title in program history and first since 1999. The championship victory gave URI an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Junior Jared Terrell and his game-high 20 points led Rhode Island’s offense. Right behind Terrell was redshirt junior guard E.C. Matthews, who continued his recent surge with 19 points and nine rebounds. Hassan Martin assumed his four-year role of anchoring URI’s defense with three blocks while also tallying 11 points and five rebounds.
URI also enjoyed a strong bench presence versus VCU. With the senior frontcourt of Martin and Kuran Iverson in foul trouble for most of the second half, head coach Dan Hurley looked to freshman Cyril Langevine to maintain defensive ferocity. Langevine finished with four points, 10 rebounds and two swats.
The statistical key to Rhode Island’s victory was their lack of turnovers, something that has been pivotal throughout their entire tournament run. VCU forced 15.1 turnovers per game during the season, but the Rams gave the ball away just six times.
URI’s second A-10 Championship is special for the program, as it ended nearly a two-decade long absence from the NCAA Tournament, but it can also shape their future going forward. However, the win means the most to the scrappy team who earned with a dominant brand of basketball not seen in Kingston in quite a while.
Rhode Island was a preseason AP top-25 team, but quickly lost the number next to their name and with it much of their credibility. The Rams struggled on the road at the beginning of the year dropping close games to Valparaiso, Houston and instate rival Providence. URI faced injury and illness as starters Martin and junior point guard Jarvis Garrett missed substantial time. The Rams followed their early season shortcomings with key losses in conference play as well. They dropped both of their matchups to top-seeded Dayton and suffered what Hurley called the worst loss in his time at URI in a 53-43 home loss to Fordham that appeared to be the proverbial nail in the coffin. For Hurley and his team, however, it was about getting to the big dance no matter how perilous the road.
“We had two goals this year,” Hurley said in an A-10 conference call. “Win the A-10 Championship and get to the NCAA Tournament. We did those things.”
No. 11 Rhode Island is now set to face the No. 6 Creighton Blue Jays in Sacramento, California this Friday, beginning approximately at 4:30 p.m. It will be their first NCAA Tournament game since 1999, something that is not lost on the entire Ram community. The team displayed emotion during their victory celebration that perfectly illustrated how steep the climb back to national prominence has been for the program, especially this Hurley-led group which was well-aware that their potential to go dancing had an expiration date that was fast approaching.
It is easy to look at the negatives over the past 18 years, but for Rhode Island it is time to just take in the moment. Following the win over VCU, Hurley was interviewed by CBS Sports’ Allie LaForce. Hurley started explaining what his team has been through the past two seasons, which cannot be recalled without mentioning the adversity his first two prized recruits have faced- Matthews and his ACL tear last season and Martin’s lingering injuries over the last two seasons. Then Hurley, as if realizing the significance of what just transpired, stopped abruptly and said, “Forget all that. We are going to the Dance.”